Has Your Firm Embraced Digital First?

I was working for Oracle in 2001and the word came down that we were no longer printing product spec sheets as standard practice. Marketing and Sales teams were stunned. We couldn't imagine a world in which our prospects and customers would want to print their own PDFs instead of receiving expensive glossy brochures. Even more unimaginable, that they might be happy just viewing them online and not printing anything. There was outrage in the ranks. But here we are, twenty years later, and I don't know a single person who would snail mail a printed collateral piece. Sure, hard copies might still be created for tradeshows. But I would wager a bet that 90% of Oracle's marketing materials are consumed as PDFs. Digital first.

The term "digital first" gained popularity about a dozen years ago and refers to a business mindset that thinks (as a default setting) about information sharing from a digital -- e.g., web, mobile -- perspective rather than traditional channels such as print and brick and mortar stores.

This philosophy recognizes the sea change in how our clients and other audiences consume our content. From a marketer's perspective, we need to be thinking about how we write, how we publish, how we manage back-end tools and processes such as search engine optimization and meta definitions. None of that needed consideration with the old school model. It means we have to put the people, processes, and technologies in place that support a completely new business mindset. Note that this doesn't mean every single process will be changed from traditional to digital, but it does mean that the bias will always be toward "can we improve this by digital delivery"?

Let's take a simple marketing example: the firm brochure. In the traditional approach, once the content and design were settled on and we were ready to share it with the world, we first had to go to print (expensive), then mail it out (slow AND expensive). The content was frozen in time (no adding the new lateral to the partner listing).

Digital first means thinking with digital publication in mind, first and foremost. By starting with a digital first mindset, you will 1) rethink color palette, typography, and layout guidelines; 2) create a shorter piece because you know from analyzing our online data that audiences skim, they don't settle in to read paragraph after paragraph of text; 3) add interactive design elements, because you know digital means we can *engage* with our reader; 4) include creative calls-to-action based upon the path that the user took to get to your content; 5) collect data along the way to continually improve your offerings and to better understand what your audiences are most interested in.

In summary, because of your digital first delivery of this firm brochure you derived many benefits:

  • Met your clients and other audiences where they were (web, mobile)
  • Reduced creation costs
  • Shortened delivery times
  • Provided an interactive, engaging customer experience
  • Were able to quickly and easily add the new partner to the list
  • Captured data that allowed you to measure performance and adjust accordingly

This is just one example of the benefit of adopting a digital first mindset. Mark Wilson of Wilson Fletcher wrote a compelling piece on how the airport experience transforms once it becomes a digital first experience.

The Keys to a Successful Digital First Business

leadership has to support and reward digital first culture

1. Championship

Like any business transformation, digital first can be challenging because it means everyone in the organization has to buy into a new way of doing things. Without direction from the top, this - like all culture shifts that lack leadership's stamp of approval - will fail. Everyone in leadership needs to recognize it will take time, it will take investment, it will take training, and it will take enforcement over a not-insignificant period of time. In many cultures, this also means rewarding those who get on board with a positive attitude.

2. Culture

In order to play their part in driving and sustaining a digital first culture, the entire firm needs to understand the vision. A clear statement of goals and a roadmap for getting there needs to be shared. Then it needs to be personalized. Everyone needs to know the part they play and the resources available to them.

This means regular communication and promotion of tools and training resources. You should consider establishing user groups that can share tips, tricks, best practices. I've organized quarterly awards where staff submit case studies and winners present their digital first successes. Send out internal newsletters that reinforce the firm's high-level goals and tie the smaller successes to those goals to help employees see how their work impacts the organization. This gets others excited about implementing similar changes.

3. Innovation

One way law firms have been embracing digital first is with innovative approaches to knowledge management and in how they deliver discovery services. If the organizational bias is toward automating processes and mining data to create economies of scale and reduce costs, these are two obvious candidates. As firms mature, innovation will start pushing into other administrative functions. It is critical that departments talk to each other and agree on any tech investment roadmap. They should also identify overlaps and leverage implementations that meet shared requirements.

Can investment in new technologies streamline your processes and help you reach your digital first business models? Absolutely, and your tech budgets had better reflect this commitment. Start with a top-to-bottom audit of your technology stack and map each item to the business process(es) being supported. This will help your planning and budgeting processes, as you think about what business models you plan to overhaul from a digital perspective.

Your people need new technologies and business models, yes, but first they need the passion and insight that comes from a culture that encourages innovation. Which leads us to Education.

4. Education

The key to the success of digital first will always be your people, so it is critical to invest in conferences, training certificates, and other resources that inspire and further develop your culture. Establish a budget for education on digital. Hold teams accountable for giving staff the hours they need to get their certificates and celebrate every advancement. And be prepared to have to rethink your org charts. New business models mean new roles will be needed and other roles will need to pivot and learn new ways of working.

Digital transformation will require years of heavy lifting, ongoing communication, and cultural reinforcement. The rewards can be healthier client relationships, new market opportunities, and a stronger culture. It all starts with the commitment to make it so.

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